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Wreck report for 'Empire Clansman', 1947

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Unique ID:14190
Description:Board of Trade wreck report for 'Empire Clansman', 1947.
Creator:GB Board of Trade
Copyright:Out of copyright
Partner:SCC Libraries
Partner ID:Unknown


Crown Copyright Reserved

No. 7944




In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at the Sheriff Court, Edinburgh, on 22nd, 23rd and 24th May, and 16th and 17th June, 1947, before Sir John Fenton, K.C., Sheriff of the Lothians and Peebles, assisted by Captain J. W. Grimston and Captain J. P. Thomson, Assessors, into the circumstances attending the stranding of the s.s. "Empire Clansman" of Grangemouth, at Scoughall Roads, near Beggar's Gap, in the Firth of Forth, on 18th January, 1945.

The Court have carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above mentioned shipping casualty and find, for the reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the stranding and consequent damage and loss were caused by errors of judgment on the part of Captain Philip Smith Williams, her master.

Dated this, the Seventeenth day of June, 1947.

J. C. FENTON, Judge.

       We concur in the above Report,



The Court answers the Questions submitted by the Ministry of Transport as follows:—

Q. 1. By whom was the s.s. "Empire Clansman" owned, and how long had she been so owned?

A. His Majesty The King, represented by the Minister of Transport. Since 1942.

Q. 2. When the said vessel set sail from Methil at 4 p.m. on 18th January, 1945, was she in good and seaworthy condition and fit to undertake the ordinary perils of a voyage from Methil, Firth of Forth, to Belfast?

A. Yes.

Q. 3. (a) Was the s.s. "Empire Clansman" fitted with wireless telegraphy?

A. (a) Yes.

Q. (b) What type and range?

A. (b) International Marine—range 250 miles.

Q. (c) Was such wireless transmitter in good working order?

A. (c) Yes.

Q. 4.(a) With what compasses was the vessel fitted, and where were they situated on board?

A. (a) Three compasses: Hughes Dead Beat Compasses. One on the bridge, one aft, and one spare.

Q. (b) When were they last professionally adjusted, and were deviation cards supplied to the vessel?

A. (b) November, 1944. Yes.

Q. 5. With what sounding devices was the vessel supplied or equipped?

A. Deep sea hand lead and line.

Q. 6. When the s.s. "Empire Clansman" last sailed was she properly equipped with lifesaving appliances?

A. Yes.

Q. 7. What cargo was the said vessel carrying at the commencement of her last voyage?

A. Coal, 2,518 tons.

Q. 8. How was the cargo stowed?

A. In two holds under hatches in the main part of the ship—forepart and centre.

Q. 9. Was any cargo carried on deck?

A. No.

Q. 10. What crew did the vessel carry?

A. Crew of 24 including the master and the first officer.

Q. 11. (a) When and where did the s.s. "Empire Clansman" strand?

A. (a) About 9.30 p.m., 18th January, 1945. Beggar's Gap, Parish of Whitekirk, County of East Lothian.

Q. (b) Was such stranding attended by any loss of life?

A. (b) Able Seaman F. Southern, 20, Northumberland Street, Blyth, was drowned at or about the time of stranding.

Q. 12. (a) What was the state of the weather, wind and sea at the time the s.s. "Empire Clansman" sailed from Methil on 18th January 1945?

A. (a) Overcast, slight haze and drizzle, little wind from west, slight sea swell from north-east.

Q. (b) What changes, if any, took place in the weather, wind and sea between the time the s.s. "Empire Clansman" sailed and the time she stranded?

A. (b) About 5 p.m. wind veered to north-east and increased to fresh gale until about 8 p.m. when it increased to a whole gale with heavy squalls and sleet and snow showers and high seas.

Q. 13. Was the s.s. "Empire Clansman" properly navigated between the time of her sailing from Methil on 18th January, 1945, to the time of her stranding on 18th January, 1945?

A. No. The vessel was properly navigated until she rounded 22 A Buoy on the outward passage, but the master's decision thereafter to turn and run for shelter was imprudent navigation in the circumstances.

Q. 14. With what publications and charts was the vessel supplied with regard to the waters covered during the time the s.s. "Empire Clansman" was at sea on the 18th January, 1945?

A. All necessary charts and publications. No weather report was issued at the time.

Q. 15. Was a proper and safe course ordered by the master of the s.s. "Empire Clansman"?

A. Yes, until the point was reached where the decision to turn the vessel was made. Thereafter no.

Q. 16. Was a proper lookout and observation kept?

A. Yes.

Q. 17. What was the speed made by the s.s. "Empire Clansman" from the time she turned about to the time she stranded?

A. Evidence does not admit an answer.

Q. 18. [Was the steering gear of the vessel in proper working order when she left Methil on the 18th January, 1945?

A. Yes.

Q. 19. Did the steering gear of the vessel develop any defect prior to the stranding?

A. No.

Q. 20. Did the master order both anchors to be dropped while the vessel was proceeding full speed ahead?

A. No. Anchors were not dropped until after the vessel had stranded.

Q. 21. How much anchor cable was, in fact, paid out?

A. Superseded.

Q. 22. What amount of anchor cable was found paid out when the vessel was salvaged?

A. No evidence.

Q. 23. What was the cause of the stranding of the s.s. "Empire Clansman"?

A. The attempt to return to shelter from a position in the open sea involving running towards a lee shore in the existing weather conditions.

Q. 24. Was the stranding of the s.s. "Empire Clansman" caused or contributed to by the wrongful act, default or negligence of Philip Smith Williams, the master?

A. The stranding was caused by an error of judgment on the part of the master.

Q. 25. Was the stranding of the s.s. "Empire Clansman" caused or contributed to by the wrongful act, default or negligence of Wilfred Allen Hinchcliffe, the chief officer?

A. No.

Annex to the Report

This Inquiry was. held in the Sheriff Court, Edinburgh, on 22nd, 23rd and 24th May, and 16th and 17th June, 1947.

Mr. D. G. McGregor, W.S., Edinburgh, appeared for the Minister of Transport. The other parties to the Inquiry were (1) Messrs. Stephenson Clarke Ltd., Collingwood Buildings, Newcastle-on-Tyne, to whom the management of s.s. "Empire Clansman" had been entrusted and who were represented by Mr. Robert Bell, W.S., Edinburgh, (2) Captain Philip Smith Williams, who was master of the "Empire Clansman" and is now in command of the "Empire Ure," and (3) Wilfred Allen Hinchcliffe, who was first officer on the "Empire Clansman" and is now mate on s.s. " Keynes."

The Master was represented at the Inquiry by Mr. W. F. M. Whitelaw, W.S., Edinburgh, and the first officer by Mr. Ross McLean, Advocate, Edinburgh.

The "Empire Clansman," official number 169097 (hereinafter referred to as the vessel), Port of Registry, Grangemouth, is a single screw steel built transversely framed vessel having a raised quarter deck and machinery fitted aft, and was built by the Grangemouth Dockyard Company Ltd., in 1942. Her gross tonnage was 2,064.9 tons. Her length is 272 feet and her breadth 39 feet 10 inches. She was fitted with one set of engines—triple expansion North Eastern Marine—with a nominal H.P. 204 and indicated H.P. 750 and a boiler with a loaded pressure of about 220 lb. per square inch, giving a speed of 9½ knots.

The vessel carried two class A lifeboats under davits aft, and two emergency rafts, one placed in the fore rigging port, and the other in the main rigging starboard, lifebuoys, lifebelts and a rocket gun. She had large cargo hatches; four were fitted, two forward and two aft of the bridge, and each hatch was fitted with thwartship beams, and wood hatches were laid fore and aft in three sections covered with tanpaulins battened down by steel bars and wedges, and six steel straps were fitted over the top of the tarpaulins, two over each hatch section in Nos. 1 and 3, and five steel straps over each hatch in Nos. 2 and 4. The steering gear was a steam pattern and was controlled from the wheelhouse by a telemotor. The vessel was fitted with a degaussing M pattern coil energised from the dynamo used for the navigation lights and for lighting the ship, with a second dynamo which could be used for the same purposes. She was owned by His Majesty, represented by the Minister of Transport, and had been inspected and surveyed in November, 1944.

The vessel sailed from Methil on 18th January, 1945, about 4 p.m. with a crew of 24 including the master (certificate number 26933) and the first officer. She carried a cargo of small coal (approximately 2,518 tons) stowed in two holds in the main part of the ship and her destination was Belfast. Her draft was 17 feet 2 inches forward and 17 feet 9 inches aft. She was to form one of a convoy of ships which left Methil about 3.15 p.m. to proceed northwards, but she was detained in Methil Hanbour by the state of the tide and it was arranged that she should overtake and join the convoy.

The Court think it right to direct attention to the following matters, viz.:—

(1) The casualty occurred in January, 1945, and no explanation was given for the delay of two years in holding the Inquiry; (2) none of the records made during the period between the vessel's sailing on 18th January, and the occurrence of the casualty, was produced, and the records made shortly thereafter by the master and the first officer are inaccurate, and upon one matter, viz. that of dropping the anchors of the vessel is admittedly false; (3) none of the seamen who acted as a wheelman or as a lookout man was adduced as a witness; and (4) the radio operator, who might have given useful testimony was not adduced. Of those who were on board the vessel the witnesses adduced were, the master, the first officer, the second officer, the chief engineer, the second engineer, and a fireman. Owing to the lapse of time the recollection of all the witnesses was somewhat vague.

The master and the first officer alone gave direct and positive testimony as to the course taken by the vessel on her outward passage and until the vessel was turned and an attempt made to retrace her course to shelter. As their evidence is based upon recollection and to great extent upon the records and reports previously made by them, inaccurate in some particulars and admittedly false in at least one particular, the evidence requires careful scrutiny and it is open to the criticism that it is not always consistent and that much of it was elicited by leading questions. The position is not satisfactory and it is more than difficult to understand, on their evidence, how the casualty occurred where it did. While the Court are not prepared to hold that their evidence given at the Inquiry upon matters of fact was deliberately false they are unable to accept as reliable their testimony as to the precise time when the vessel was turned and as to their seeing Buoy 22 A thereafter.

Upon consideration of the evidence as a whole the Court are of opinion that the following facts have been established, viz.:

(1) At 4 p.m. the pilot was dropped in Methil Roads and at 4.35 p.m. the log was streamed at Largo Buoy and the vessel put on a course E. by S.

(2) At 5.45 p.m. the vessel reached North Rath Ground Buoy and her course was altered to E. ½ N.

(3) At 6.50 p.m. Buoy No. 22 A was reached and the course was altered to N.E. ¼ N.

(4) On these courses the vessel proceeded along lines marked on the chart as channels swept by mine-sweepers.

(5) The speed of the vessel from Largo Buoy to North Rath Ground Buoy was 7.3 knots and from North Rath Ground Buoy to Buoy No. 22 A was 5.2 knots.

(6) Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. the wind veered from west to north-east and gradually increased in force until about 8 p.m. when it reached a whole gale.

(7) Between 7 p.m. and 7.15 p.m. the vessel at full speed began to "ship heavy water" and the first officer after trying to proceed at half speed and then at "slow" called the master.

(8) The master then came on the bridge and decided" because of the elements" to turn the vessel and to seek shelter in Methil Roads. At this time the vessel was about 6 or 7 miles to the east of the Fife Coast.

(9) After turning, the vessel was put on a course S.W. ½ S. and reached a buoy about 8 p.m.

(10) The vessel rounded that buoy at 8.05 p.m. and was put on a course W. by N. ½ N.

(11) About 8 p.m. there were showers of sleet and snow and visibility was very poor; thereafter the wind increased in force with heavy squalls and the snow became more dense and visibility was nil.

(12) After 8 p.m. difficulty was experienced in bringing the head of the vessel into the wind and in keeping her on her course, and between 8.30 p.m. and 9 p.m. she became" almost unmanageable."

(13) About 9.27 p.m. the vessel stranded at Beggar's Gap, a point of the coast of East Lothian 10 miles south-west of Buoy 22 A and on a line 6 miles to the west of that buoy.

(14) The master remained on the bridge continuously from about 7.15 p.m. until the vessel stranded.

(15) A British minefield was laid along the whole coast with its western extremity on a line about 16 miles to the east of May Island and there was the possibility of danger from enemy mines in waters outside the swept channels.

Despite the positive assertions by the master and the first officer, the Court, having regard to the point at which the vessel stranded, the direction of the wind and other factors, are of opinion that they were mistaken as to the time when the vessel was turned and that the buoy which they alleged to be Buoy 22 A was in fact Buoy No. 22.

Upon consideration of the whole evidence the Court are of opinion that the master should have continued on the course N.E. ¼ N., a course which, so far as there is evidence, was taken by the rest of the convoy without mishap, and was at fault in turning the vessel and running towards a lee shore. The Court are further of opinion that, when subsequently the vessel had been set on the course W. by N. ½ N., and it was ascertained that she was continually falling off up to as much as four points and could not be brought to windward of that course and had become almost unmanageable, the master should have turned the vessel on a port helm and endeavoured to get back on an opposite course, or if, as he says in evidence, he considered this to be too dangerous because of the lee shore he should have stopped her engines, and brought the vessel to anchor and then steamed to anchor on the chance of the gale moderating. It is clear from the evidence and from a passage in the master's deposition made some days after the stranding that from 9 p.m. onwards he was quite unaware of the position of the vessel, and in the opinion of the Court he was not justified in the circumstances in trusting that she would reach a position of shelter and safety.


Sheriff of the Lothians and Peebles, Judge.


(Issued by the Minister of Transport

in London, September 10th,



To be purchased directly from H.M. Stationery Office at the following addresses:

York House, Kingsway, London, W.C.2; 13a Castle Street, Edinburgh, 2;

39-41 King Street, Manchester, 2; 1 St. Andrew's Crescent, Cardiff;

Tower Lane, Bristol, 1; 80 Chichester Street, Belfast





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